According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), a work breakdown structure (WBS) is “a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.” In the tree structure of a WBS, project deliverables and activities are broken down into manageable parts, making it easier to estimate required resources and costs, create a realistic schedule, and control each stage of a project. A work breakdown structure is especially useful for bigger projects that involve many elements.
To save you time and facilitate the process of creating a work breakdown structure, you can use a pre-built WBS template. In this article, we’ve rounded up the most common WBS templates, all of which are fully customizable and free to download. With the preformatted structure of a template, you can streamline the decomposition process and ensure that all necessary details are included. Download the following Microsoft Excel and Word templates to get started.
What Goes Into a Work Breakdown Structure
A work breakdown structure separates data, services, a product, or all three, depending on the type and scope of a project. A WBS can be oriented around deliverables or around project phases and milestones for a process-centered approach. The process of subdividing a project into smaller components is called decomposition, and it can be completed by an entire project team as a group effort to ensure a comprehensive WBS. Doing so will give all team members a broad understanding of the project, thus improving communication, efficiency, and accountability.
Once the deliverables or milestones have been identified, the team can list the sequence of activities needed to complete each deliverable, thus decomposing the project into workable steps. The hierarchy of steps breaks the project into levels: The lowest level is the work package, which includes the activity or tasks required to produce a deliverable or complete a milestone. The preformatted structure of a template can help streamline the decomposition process and ensure that all necessary details are included.
The number of levels required for a WBS will depend on the characteristics of a project, but the levels must be sufficient to meet a project manager’s needs for accurate estimating and effective project monitoring. In a similar vein, the level of detail will vary, but one option is to follow the 8/80 rule, which says that the lowest level of work should require between eight and 80 hours. Based on this rule, if a work package takes more than 80 hours, it needs to be decomposed further.
A work breakdown structure can be formatted in various ways, including as an outline (basically, a numbered list), a hierarchical table, or a tree diagram. Regardless of format, a WBS will typically include outline numbering to represent the sequential order of each level and activity. To complement the WBS, a related dictionary may be created to provide detailed information about each element of the project, including definitions of each work package, effort level and duration of tasks, resources, and more. A WBS dictionary is generally presented in a table or spreadsheet format and serves as a detailed reference and planning tool.
WBS Template with Gantt Chart
Pairing a work breakdown structure with a Gantt chart provides information on tasks and subtasks along with a visual view of project management. This is sort of like combining a WBS outline, dictionary, and project schedule in a single template. You can organize tasks using WBS outline numbering, include whatever details are pertinent to your project - such as duration, completion status, deadlines, and assigned owners - and use the Gantt chart to visually track progress and outcomes.
Download WBS Template with Gantt Chart
Work Breakdown Structure Diagram Template
This work breakdown structure diagram template is arranged in boxes and rows for an easy-to-read layout. Levels are clearly separated, and tasks are organized hierarchically. The graphic layout allows you to get a project overview at a glance, while the structure provides clarity on the breakdown of tasks. The advantage of this diagram view is that you can see the overall scope of work without getting lost in details. Combine this with a WBS dictionary for a mix of visual structure and detailed project information.
Download Work Breakdown Structure Diagram Template
Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary Template
A detailed WBS dictionary can help a project manager create an effective project schedule. This dictionary template includes WBS numbering, task names and descriptions, the level of effort for each task, scheduling dates, and more. You can add, remove, or edit columns and rows on this spreadsheet template to create a comprehensive WBS dictionary for your project.
Download Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary Template
WBS Tree Diagram Template
This work breakdown structure template provides a simple tree structure in a Word document. The center box at the top of the tree will hold your project name, and the tiers below the box will break deliverables down into distinct work packages. While this is a diagram view rather than an outline, you can choose to include WBS numbering in each box to further delineate elements and project levels. This template can also be useful for matching your WBS dictionary to the diagram.
Download WBS Tree Diagram Template
WBS Outline and Diagram Template
This work breakdown structure template provides both outline and tree structure views in a spreadsheet format. You can add as many levels as needed to cover the breakdown of your project. The outline view offers simplicity and quick organization, while the diagram view provides a visual representation of how each project level relates to the next. You can easily add more sheets to this WBS Excel template to include more project planning or data.
WBS Levels Template
For a slightly different layout from the tree template offered above, this WBS diagram clearly separates all of the levels and labels them. This provides both vertical and horizontal organization of the hierarchical tree structure. As with the other diagram templates offered here, the visual nature of this work breakdown structure in Word makes it easy to read and understand the relationships between the different levels, tasks, and objectives.
User Acceptance Testing and Training WBS
User acceptance testing (UAT) is the last phase of software testing, in which actual users try out the software to ensure its functionality in real-world situations. This tree diagram WBS is designed to help you manage its many activities. The template includes branches for training, project-specific roles, test sites, and training completion, and you can edit the work packages or add/delete categories as needed. Overall, this template can provide a high-level plan of how you will organize and take in feedback from your UAT process.
People and Project Management WBS
Use this simple Word template to visualize how you could manage multiple clients, direct reports, or projects. The levels in this example are very straightforward, so edit them with your specific responsibilities. The work packages here are defined as individual tasks required by each client, team member, or project, so you can narrow them to fit the project’s or person’s needs.
Software Development Project WBS
This Excel template provides space to organize tasks in an outline or tree diagram. Create a detailed, hierarchical list of all tasks and activities that need to be completed in a software development project, and note the difference between client deliverables and internal activities with the key provided. If necessary, you could edit the template for a software upgrade, rather than a new development project. This template does not include branches for project management activities, so be sure to track those separately, if needed. Also, keep in mind that the development method you employ (waterfall, Agile, etc.) will have a bearing on the order and duration of work packages.
Construction Project WBS
This template is created with construction projects in mind. It features both a tree diagram and outline, which you can edit to include the necessary phases and work packages for your project. You can also view task hierarchy in both formats: via parent and child rows in the outline, and by color-coding on the diagram.
Engineering Project WBS
Use this WBS template to plan and delegate tasks in large-scale engineering projects. The template includes two Excel sheets, one in tree diagram and one in outline form, so you can list the work packages and organize tasks in the way that makes sense for your team. In this example, the template includes categories for engineering, enterprising, and educating, but you can edit all categories and work packages to reflect your own project’s needs.
Conference Planning Mindmap
This work breakdown structure is designed like a mindmap: The overarching objective (planning a conference) is at the center, and all supporting tasks are grouped by phase and displayed in separate bubbles extending out from the center point. The template is designed specifically for conference planning, so categories include initiation, marketing and web, procurement, management delegation, on-the-day activities, and project closeout, as well as specific sample tasks for each phase. Edit the categories to fit your needs, and add images or graphics to expand on your ideas.
Business Process Modeling WBS
This tree diagram template for Excel walks you through creating, modeling, and monitoring business processes. Branches are organized into six phases: project launch, design, modeling, development/execution, implementation, and realization of value and monitor. The template is prefilled with specific tasks for each category, but you can edit, add, or delete items as necessary. Furthermore, the template is color-coded by level, so you can easily identify the task size and more accurately predict timeline, budget, and resources.
Business Acquisition WBS
This template provides a tree diagram view to list all activities and tasks associated with onboarding a recently acquired business. You’ll find categories for migrating resource information and project accounting, training, a plan for the first 100 days, preparations, and communications, along with space to fill in specific tasks for each category. You can also edit the categories to meet your needs or add more branches if necessary.
Streamline Project Management Efforts with Smartsheet
Documenting the total scope of work for a project is a key part of the project planning process, and a work breakdown structure (WBS) is a helpful tool to get you started. But once you've completed your WBS, you need a solution to help plan, track, automate, and report on the overall project details from start to finish.
One such solution is Smartsheet, a real-time work execution platform that enables enterprises and teams to get from idea to impact - fast. Top project management leaders rely on Smartsheet to help align the right people, resources, and schedules to get work done.
Use Smartsheet to create consistent project elements, increase speed, and improve collaboration with scalable options that fit individual work preferences. Hold yourself and your team accountable, improve visibility into team priorities, and ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?
To create a work breakdown structure (WBS), first determine the major deliverables or products that you aim to develop. Then, divide each deliverable into its component deliverables in the same manner, breaking down each step even further into a smaller, more actionable steps.
Divide each of these new work pieces into component parts so that each deliverable is easy to understand, measurable, and independent.
How Do You Use a Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management?
In project management, use a work breakdown structure to define a specific project’s goals and deliverables. It helps project managers document and track a project charter or statement of work.
Additionally, a WBS reduces complicated activities into a collection of more actionable tasks, helping project managers oversee complex work more efficiently.
Use a WBS in project management to show project work elements in a graphical display to better organize and divide a total scope of work.
What Is a Work Package?
A work package is a group of related tasks within a particular project. They resemble mini-projects or sub-projects because they are individual tasks that contribute to the overall goal of a larger project.
A work package is the smallest unit of work that a project can, and should, be broken into when creating a work breakdown structure.
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